Introduction to Photography (Panoramic Imaging)
Introduction to Photography

Panoramic Imaging

Images and text by Paul Illsley

With recent advancement in specialized digital image processing software it has become very easy to record great panoramic images. The trick is to make sure you record images with lots of image overlap. This overlap allows the software to ďstitchĒ the image together by recognizing and aligning similar objects in adjacent images. Normally I try and record images with at least 50% overlap.

Make sure the camera is level. If possible try and have the camera placed at a point half of the height of the vertical extent of the area being imaged. This is most important when you are imaging interiors or buildings so you donít have the camera tilted up or down which would create a keystone effect in your images. This keystone effect will result in your final panorama coming out curved instead of straight. Iíve often placed the tripod on top of a solid table or attached it to the top of a sturdy ladder to make sure it is placed at the proper height.

Think about shooting in a portrait camera orientation. This allows you to record as much vertical information as possible while allowing the camera rotation to take care of the horizontal field of view. I normally use a wide angle lens (24mm equivalent in 35mm format).

Shoot more images than you think you need. When you record a series of images, record at least two additional images past your area of interest on each side. This allows you to crop the final image the way you want. Make sure you use the same focal length for each image (donít zoom in or out during the panorama).

Try and rotate the camera around the centre point of the lens. It is often hard to know where the optical centre of the lens is so you might need to guess. A good point to start with would be half way between the front element and the rear lens mount. This issue isnít as important if you are recording landscape images but it is important if you are recording images with objects close to the camera.

Set your camera on manual exposure and manual white balance (if you can). if you use the camera's auto exposure setting, each image might be lighter or darker than the adjacent image. I look at the scene and choose the best exposure for the most important area, then use that setting for all the images. If there is a large brightness difference between different areas in the scene I will often record HDR (Hyper Dynamic Range) images of each shot and then stitch the HDR images together. Remember to lock the White Balance (if you can) so you wonít have strange color shifts between images.

Having said all of this, I have taken great outdoor panoramas without any special equipment or custom settings. If you have a simple point and shoot camera try and use the auto exposure lock option (if it has this feature). I will normally point the camera at the area of main interest and press the shutter half way down to lock the focus and exposure, then rotate the camera to record each image (returning to the main reference area to set the exposure for the next image). This takes a bit of practice and patience but it does make for a better exposed panoramic sequences. Some point and shoot cameras have a panorama mode which can create nice images, just check the final image before you leave to make sure the automatically stitched image looks good.

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